Can You Survive a Plague?

Can you survive a plague? A plague? You mean like the Bubonic plague? The one that wiped out hundreds of millions, one third of mankind in Medieval Europe, the Black Death, that plague? The illness that had stacks of rotting corpses piled like cord wood on wooden carts, too many to bury or incinerate in a timely manner? That plague? Fortunately, due to modern medicine that plague no longer exists. Does it?

Yes, it does.

Let’s begin by defining what is the plague. Commonly referred to as the “Black Death” the disease is caused by a bacterial strain called Yersinia Pestis, that is found in animals throughout the world and is normally transmitted by fleas, biting infected animals then biting humans. Poor sanitation, over crowding and large rodent populations contribute to the spread of the disease, with the highest incident rate being in Africa.

Three Basic Forms of plague

Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease and is contracted by coming into contact with an infected rodent or a flea from the rodent. There are documented cases of people contracting the disease by coming into contact with the infected person’s clothing or bed sheets. This type of plague infects your lymphatic system, a large part of the body’s immune system, causing severe inflammation of the lymph nodes. Untreated it moves into the blood stream or the lungs, with death being a normal result.

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Symptoms of bubonic plague generally appear within two to six days of infection. They include:

  • fever and chills
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • general weakness
  • seizures

You may also experience painful and swollen lymph glands, called buboes, in the groin, armpits, neck or the site where you were infected by the bite or scratch of an infected animal/insect. The appearance of Buboes is how the bubonic plague got its name.

Septicemic Plague is created when the bacteria enters directly into the blood stream and quickly multiples. Bubonic and pneumonic plague can lead to septicemic plague.

Septicemic plague symptoms usually start within two to seven days after exposure, but septicemic plague can lead to death before symptoms even appear. Symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever and chills
  • extreme weakness
  • bleeding (blood may not be able to clot)
  • shock
  • skin turning black (signs of gangrene)

Pneumonic plague is contracted when the bacteria either infects the lungs first, normal procedure, or spreads to the lungs, and is the most lethal form of the disease. It is also the most contagious form which is how it spread through Europe. When someone with pneumonic plague coughs, the bacteria from their lungs are expelled into the air, when other people inhale the infected air they too become infected, which can lead to an epidemic. Pneumonic plague is the only form of the plague that can be transmitted from person to person.

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Pneumonic plague symptoms may appear as quickly as one day after exposure to the bacteria. These symptoms include:

  • trouble breathing
  • chest pain
  • cough
  • fever
  • headache
  • overall weakness
  • bloody sputum (saliva and mucus or pus from the lungs)

The plague, of any type, is rare in the United States, however, there are still 7 to 10 cases reported, particularly in the Southwest, every year. There hasn’t been a reported person to person infection since 1924 which is great news, but … does that mean we are safe?

As stated earlier the plague is still rampant in some parts of Africa and cases have been reported in Peru, that’s on our side of the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve all watched Hollywood’s version of epidemics and pandemics, but are they that far fetched? Zombies … yeah probably. Plague … very well within the realm of possibility. One pneumonic plague-infected person landing at JFK airport could infect 30 people before exiting the airport and continuing to spread the infection throughout the city. Remember two of the three most common denominators for the spread of the disease, rat infested and over crowded population, (sound like New York City).

We have undeniably established the plague, with all its horrors, still exists and is a clear and present danger of possibly creating a pandemic. So how do we protect ourselves and our families? There are two scenarios that directly affect the survival rate should a pandemic strike. Community action and Private actions, and although both are important, you only have control over one, your private actions.

Stay Informed.

How can you possibly avoid or combat an issue if you don’t know what you’re fighting. You must be aware of the type of disease that is effecting people, is it contained or running rampant. Are there medications available? What are authorities suggesting? The more you know the greater your chance of survival.

Stay Isolated.

Avoid interaction with all people as you don’t know if they are infected or not. Keep your kids home from school and daycare centers. These places are already notorious for quickly spreading diseases like the flu, pink eye and head lice. They should be closed already, but if not, keep your kids away from them. Forego attending church, God will understand. Postpone charity events, bingo night, whatever. Stay at home.

Be Prepared.

Sound familiar? You should already have a store of non-perishable food, water, and essential emergency supplies, etc which is classic survival 101. Let’s examine some plague specific materials we need to stock up on.

  • Gas Mask: In order for the plague to reach pandemic proportions it must be easily and rapidly transferable from person to person, which in all likely hood mean its contagious through the air we breathe. There are gas mask available that prevent infection from airborne pathogens, but be sure you have the proper filter. Filters come in many sizes and protect against certain substances, not all cartridge filters will stop the plague.
  • Duct Tape & Rolls of Plastic: You can’t walk around 24-7 wearing a gas mask. Therefore, it’s imperative you make your home as airtight as possible. What better material to use than duct tape and plastic? I don’t care if you have brand new windows, cover them with an additional layer of plastic, larger than the window itself. Cover all outlets, such as the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathrooms. With a few 2x4s, plastic and duct tape you can build a containment area inside the front door where family would sanitize themselves before re-entering the house.
  • Eye Goggles: The eyes are an entry point for airborne pathogens, therefore they should be protected as best as possible. A quality pair of eye goggles, Not safety glasses, will greatly enhance protecting this vulnerable spot.
  • Latex Gloves & Tyvek Suits: We do everything with our hands, that’s part of being a human being, but that can also be a hindrance. You’ll need a large quantity of disposable latex gloves in order to avoid skin contact with any possibly contaminated object. In the event there is a particular concern of environmental contamination, wearing a Tyvek suit will protect the entire exposed skin areas.
  • Vomit and Bio-hazard bags and Diapers: I’m well aware those aren’t very pleasant sounding items, but could become a requirement. Should someone contract the illness they will be unable to prevent themselves from vomiting. A containment bag will be greatly appreciated by all. The same can be said about diapers. The person will have diarrhea and very well may be too weak to rush to the bathroom. A bio-hazard bag for containing everything is wise. These are not pleasant thoughts, but are the nature of the beast. Making clean up as easy and safe as possible is quite smart.


Ever hear an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? I don’t know where or when I heard all these sayings. Just happens when you’re old. Anyway, using common sense and hygiene will help keep you healthy.

Wash your hands often and shower regularly. Keep yourself and your home clean and sanitary as disease thrives in poor hygiene conditions.

Immediately treat any wound and keep it covered until it is healed. Open skin is like an expressway for germs to enter the body.

Rest and sleep is important in order to maintain a strong immune system. You may be required to use every ounce of strength in order to survive.


Obviously this is a life threatening disease, don’t shrug it off or try to ignore the symptoms. The quicker medical treatment is given, the better the chances of survival. Seek medical help immediately. Document everything you can. When did the symptoms begin? Who have I been in contact with? What medications, if any, have I already taken? When seeking help, whether it be the doctor’s office, emergency room, clinic, etc. wear a surgical mask in order to prevent spreading the infection if you do have it.

The doctor will check for the presence of certain bacteria in your body. A blood test can reveal if you have septicemic plague. Fluid will be drawn from your swollen lymph nodes to check for bubonic plague. To verify pneumonic plague, fluid will be extracted from your airways by a tube that’s inserted down your nose or mouth and down your throat. This is known as a bronchoscopy.

These samples will be sent to the lab for analysis, preliminary results could be reached within 2 hours, but absolute confirmation may take 24 to 48 hours. Most often the doctor will immediately begin treatment with antibiotics before the diagnosis is 100% confirmed because the disease progresses so quickly. Early treatment is crucial.

Again, I can not stress this enough, without medical treatment bubonic plague can quickly transform into septicemic or pneumonic plague and death can incur within 24 hours of the first signs of symptoms.

Strong antibiotics such as gentamicin or ciprofloxacin will be administered through intravenous fluids, and oxygen will be used to support breathing. Pneumonic plague infected people will be quarantined. Medical personnel and caregivers must adhere to strict preventive precautions to avoid becoming infected.

One would be a fool to deny the possibility of a bubonic plague epidemic occurring. However, we have government officials that deny climate change, so there you go. Don’t count on someone who thinks they’re smart to protect you and your family. Try to educate yourself, preparedness is crucial and always remember survival is quite possible if you act quickly and smartly.


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